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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 00:03 GMT
'Mixed progress' for social care
A child in care
Three councils were given zero stars
Social care is improving in England, but there are still worrying gaps in the service, inspectors say.

Three quarters of the 142 council social services departments were rated in the top two categories, compared to just over two thirds in 2004.

But the Commission for Social Care Inspection also warned children receiving care struggled at school.

And the watchdog said unpaid carers - friends and family - were not getting enough help from councils.

There are five million people providing care informally - more than the combined workforce of the NHS and social services - with 900,000 looking after people for over 50 hours a week.

ZERO-STAR COUNCILS
Isles of Scilly
Plymouth (South West)
Sandwell (West Midlands)

However, despite these carers easing the pressure on council resources, just 65,000 received direct support.

The watchdog said councils should be looking to improve the available information, set up support groups to address isolation and take a lead as an employer by providing flexible working.

The watchdog also revealed that just over half of looked after children - those in homes and under foster care - got no GCSEs, while there were still problems with school absenteeism and youth offending.

In the 2005 ratings, 26 councils were given the top rating of three stars - up six on the previous year.

Coasting councils

While 83 local authorities got two stars, compared to 78 in 2004.

Meanwhile, 31 were given one star - down from 36 - and three zero stars - down from eight.

Eight councils were not given star ratings as reviews into children's services are on-going.

Overall, 36 councils went up a star, while 15 dropped one.

NEW THREE-STAR COUNCILS
Barnsley (Yorkshire and Humber)
Camden (London)
Redbridge (London)
Salford (North West)
Shropshire (West Midlands)
Southampton (South East)
Suffolk (East)
Thurrock (East)
West Berkshire (South East)
Worcestershire (West Midlands)
Another 16 councils which got three stars last year kept the rating

Chief inspector David Behan said: "The overall picture in 2005 is one of improvement.

"However, there are still councils which are coasting - and we will continue to press them to improve over the coming year."

But he added there were still areas of concern that were "unacceptable".

He said the three councils on zero stars would have to prove they had "robust" action plans in place to improve or face the prospect of intervention.

He said if councils were going to meet the demands on them in coming years they would need more money as well as making efficiency savings and changing the way they run services.

Councils were judged on both adult and children social services from home help to foster care.

They were given marks for quality of service, cost effectiveness, access and capacity for improvement.

'Excellent

From next year, adult social services and child social services will be judged separately.

Care Services Minister Liam Byrne said the results on the whole were "excellent".

But he added: "We need to make the quiet miracle of a normal life a reasonable expectation for as many people as possible and strong social services are key to this.

"I want the commission to focus its attention on those who are still underperforming. Councils must commit to change."

Julie Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said despite social services being under funded improvements had still been made.

"The overall picture from the tables is one of sustained progress towards making our social care services more responsive to the people for whom we have responsibility, and more effective in the way that they are delivered."




SEE ALSO:
Report praises care coordinators
20 Oct 04 |  Cornwall
1.9m deficit in social services
21 Jul 04 |  Wiltshire


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